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Focus on learning in digital education

There is an urgent need for digital education leadership at senior levels, delegates to a national education conference in June were told.

Addressing delegates to the Australian College of Educators national conference, ACER Principal Research Fellow Dr Gerald White said that, if education is to move successfully into the digital era, it is fundamental that leaders understand the changes occurring as a result of new technologies and their impact on teaching and learning because online learning and face to face learning are very different.

‘Leaving the use of the internet for teaching and learning to serendipity is counter-productive, given that the use of digital technologies today and the opportunities it affords are as important as reading and writing,’ Dr White said.

Dr White said that, historically, there have been both successes and failures in attempting to maximise the benefits of digital technologies in education.

‘Education’s record of success in using digital technologies remains patchy because attention to learning has been obscured by the combined hype of content and learning management system providers coupled with fears about cyber-safety,’ Dr White said.

Dr White said efforts over the past 20 years to encourage the use of digital technologies in teaching and learning include: resource portals and repositories of online curriculum learning objects, email alert services and online discussion groups for teachers with common interests, and an emphasis on increasing the number of computers per child.

However, according to Dr White, there has been little debate about the use of digital technologies for learning and even less research about how to maximise their use for learning.

‘Based on the evidence that is now emerging, one can only conclude that education has not taken the restructuring of information and communication in society too seriously but has been content to allow digital technologies to shape education instead of placing learning at the heart of education and using digital technologies to improve learning,’ Dr White said.

Dr White said students expect to be able to use the internet for their studies at their learning institutions, and expect to be engaged and to be able to interact with their teachers and receive feedback, preferably immediately. However, as Dr White noted in his conference paper, students’ competence in study, research, collaboration, curation and presentation using the internet is still limited and these skills therefore need to be taught.

‘Teaching students how to learn using digital technologies should be based on sound research,’ Dr White said.

Dr White’s conference paper lists a number of emerging pedagogies for using digital technologies that recent research has shown to have distinct advantages in terms of engagement and student performance.

‘There is a need for systematic and continuing professional learning for educational leaders, lecturers and teachers throughout education, without which beneficial change in education is unlikely to happen,’ Dr White said. ■

Find out more:
This article is based on Dr Gerald White’s paper and presentation to the Australian College of Educators national conference in Melbourne on 21 June 2013. The full conference paper is available to download at <research.acer.edu.au/digital_learning/5/>

For further information on the use of digital technology for teaching and learning, visit DERN – the Digital Education Research Network – at <dern2.acer.edu.au>

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